How decisions are really made - Education Matters Magazine
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How decisions are really made


When it comes to making decisions, we’d like to think logic prevails. We consider options and choose rationally. Not quite. In fact, the majority of decisions are actually not based primarily on logic. Logic usually enters the picture well after the decision is made, in order to rationalise our choice, writes Darren Stevenson, Extend Managing Director.

The logical part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, operates with our full awareness but is very slow at processing information. It critically examines evidence, compares options and thinks through situations. That being said, the majority of decisions are not made using this rational approach.

Most of our decisions are made in the emotional centre of our brain, the limbic system. In contrast to the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system is lightning fast and almost solely functions as part of your subconscious. With the exception of intense emotions such as anger or fear, we are generally not aware of the constant activity of our limbic system. And yet most of our decision making comes from the limbic system.

There’s good reason most decisions are subconscious. The amount of information in our day to day lives is more than our slow moving conscious brain can handle. Humans take in an average of 11 million bits of information per second from our busy environments but can only consciously process a maximum of 40 bits of information per second. Therefore, the ratio of subconscious to conscious processing is more than 99.9% subconscious!

With that much subconscious thought it comes as no surprise that most decisions, big and small, are made subconsciously, based on what we feel, and then supported by logic. When you’re looking for a home you have your ideal style and suburb on your list of requirements. But it shouldn’t surprise you when you find your “perfect” home with one less bedroom and two suburbs out of your ideal area. You hear yourself say, “The sunroom could be a guest bedroom and this suburb is better anyway.” Sound familiar?

With so much subconscious influence, how do we take charge of our decision making to make the right choice each time?

1. Accept you feel with your head
Decisions based on emotion are still made with your brain. And our limbic system draws on memory and stored knowledge, to form gut feelings. Don’t ignore how you feel. These feelings often stem from experience.

2. Limit your alternatives
When there are three or more alternatives, we make poorer decisions. Our brains cope best with two alternatives, so if there is a decision involving more than two options, narrow it down before making your final choice.

3. Create a story
To engage the limbic system more consciously create a story, paint a mind picture or demonstrate a future to which you can relate. This will help you see your choice more clearly based on your image of the future.

It helps to acknowledge the roles of the different parts of your brain to make the right decision at the right time, for you.

Extend is a leading provider of high quality Outside School Hours Care services within primary schools throughout Australia. Visit to read more useful articles for school leaders.


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